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MARTHA SEZ: It’s a battle of Us vs. Them

October 26, 2011
As we know all too well these days, the fear of harm from strangers is far more inflammatory, and really more interesting, too, than the threat of harm from one’s near and dear, although, as we know, our near and dear actually are responsible for most of our wear and tear.

I mean, who beat you up when you were little? Your big brother or some brute you’d never laid eyes on before? Who has caused you more personal aggravation — your ex or some foreign terrorist?

Of course, there are exceptions. Sometimes our worst enemies really do come from “over there.” Then we can all go after the outside agitator or axis of evil or heathen infidel or whoever. We pull together and forget our trivial differences, but we never forget our enmity against “Those People.” Not entirely.

Take for instance Michigan, which we will call “Us,” against Ohio, which for convenience we will refer to a “Them.”

Michigan,  when still a territory, actually fought a war with Ohio over Toledo, a strip of land named after Toledo, Spain, but actually situated in the United States, which was claimed by both parties.

In 1835, Michigan and Ohio sent out militias to stand on either side of the Maumee River and shout snide remarks at each other in what was known as “the Bloodless War.”

For example, a soldier on the Michigan side would shout, “What’s round on the ends and high in the middle?”

Of course, that would stump the Ohioans, who, even though they were already a state, were kind of slow. The Michigan soldiers would yell “O-HI-O!” and just laugh to beat the band, while the Ohioans would fly into a rage. Ohio would fall for this over and over again.

Sometimes Ohio would shout “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” which was clearly not true. Ohioans got their feelings hurt very easily.

The war went on in this manner for about a year.

Eventually, though, Ohio won — many say unfairly — and Ohioans have ever since been known as “Buckeyes,” which in olden days meant something too bad to print in these pages. (All Ohioans could come up wth was “Michigander.”)

Michigan soldiers said “OK, Let the baby have its bottle,” which got the Buckeyes all worked up again, but the war was over, so according to the treaty they weren’t allowed to yell anything back across the river, even if they could have thought of a comeback.

Michigan was then allowed to be a state and got the Upper Peninsula, known as the UP, as a consolation prize, but the laugh was on the Buckeyes, because, soon after, timber was discovered there.

To this day, the University of Michigan and the University of Ohio  wage fierce football competitions against each other every autumn.

The English and the Spanish have carried on a similar feud ever since 1588, when the Spanish fleet, the Armada, sailed against England in order to overthrow Queene Elizabeth I.

While unsuccessful, the Spanish, much like the Buckeyes, came from outside, claiming something that did not belong to them, and thus have been justifiably resented by the English ever since.

While Michigan can safely vent its negative feelings against the Buckeyes through the use of college football,  the English have no such safety valve, and so they carry their resentment pretty far, even to the extent of fighting over bluebells.

Flower bulb planting, like college football, is a common autumn pastime. See how the insidious English prejudice against the Spanish finds expression in a publication by England’s Royal Horticultural Society.  

“Bluebells as Weeds ...While many gardeners welcome the native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) in their gardens ...The larger Spanish bluebell is also pretty, but can become a problem too, not just because of its spreading habit, but also due to its ability to hybridise with the native English form. The hybrid forms could potentially oust the natives and we advise against growing Spanish bluebells in rural gardens ...Control: Plants that out-compete other more desirable plants or simply invade half the garden are classed as weeds and require control. Chemical controls: Bluebells are strongly resistant to weedkillers and it appears that no garden weedkiller will kill them or even check their growth.”

And so we will leave the English in a snit as we look forward to the Big Game November 11.

What’s round on the ends and high in the middle?

Have a good week.


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